At the age of 78, Isabel Escobar has never felt better.
“I think my life is full,” the El Pasoan told ABC-7 shortly after a routine medical check-up at a University Medical Center clinic. “There is nothing that I desire, just my health.”
Escobar’s approach to her health has changed from three years ago, which is when she visited a geriatrician. She said Dr. Ismael Rodriguez took a less traditional approach to her health and took her off the medication that was prescribed by her cardiologist and internal medicine physician.
“I only take one pill a day. That’s it,” Escobar said. “I have a reasonable diet and exercise. I do a lot of meditation and praying which also helps. Keeps you calm.”
As a geriatrician, which is a subspecialty of internal medicine, Rodriguez is focused on those aged 60 and up.
“As we age, medical issues usually become much more complex,” Rodriguez said. “Our goal is to keep the patient as active, as independent, and as healthy as they can be.”
University Medical Center touts Rodriguez as the only board certified geriatrician in El Paso. It’s not just a professional benefit for Rodriguez.
“I think the patients nowadays are more educated and are looking for who has the better education or, ‘who is more ready to care for me or my parents,'” Rodriguez said. “We make sure that that patient is living in a very safe environment. We ask things that no other doctor asks: ‘Do you have a gas heater? Have you had it checked for a leak?’ To make sure the patient is safe at home,” he added.
Recent data from the U.S. Census suggests that El Paso County is ‘old’ and getting older.
Data show that 75,000 or more residents of the county are 65 years of age and older.
That population makes up 11 percent to 15 percent of the population.
With El Pasoans, like many Americans who are living longer than ever before, it’s easy to see why more medical institutions in El Paso are interested in addressing the needs of the aging population.
At Las Palmas Del Sol Healthcare, a new residency program just launched in July with a focus on internal medicine.
“(Internal medicine) is like the opposite end of pediatrics,” program resident Dr. Elizabeth Boggio told ABC-7. “if you have a child, you want them to be seen by a pediatrician.”
Boggio came to El Paso from New York in June with the intent to care for El Paso’s aging population.
“I love the Mexican culture and I love the Spanish language,” Boggio said. “I really want to learn Spanish and become a good doctor.”
She’s one of 15 residents in the program at Las Palmas Del Sol.
The goal of the program is to get more doctors to set up their practices in the Sun City after graduation.
“(With) 15 new physicians per year, hopefully they stay in El Paso since they’re training here,” said Dr. Pedro Blandon, the physician in charge of the residency program.
Blandon cited statistics finding that there is one physician for 600 El Pasoans, calling it one of the highest and worst ratios in the country.
As for the state, the Texas Medical Association cited recent reports ranking the state 45th in the nation by the number of physicians for the population. Another study ranked Texas 47th for physician access.
Blandon’s goal is to get doctors like Boggio to teach patients the importance of behavior modifications that will lead to a longer, healthier life.
“I think if we train our physicians to be very convincing in explaining how to change our diets and exercise, our lifestyle, we may be able get rid of 50% of our conditions,” he said.
It was that same kind of talk from Rodriguez that worked to change Escobar’s perspective on life.
“I think it’s 50 percent the doctor, 50 percent you,” she said. “The person has to work. You only see a doctor every three or every six months. And during that period of time, it’s up to you to stay healthy.”